Interview with landscape gardener Rob Upritchard: The Great Library Seed and Plant Swap Spotlight

Vegetable gardening can be a finicky business, but city living needn't stop you from growing something edible.


Rob Upritchard is a landscape gardener from Christchurch whose passion for growing has extended to his family garden, and his wife and children are all involved. He has connected with the newly opened Tool Lendery and does regular Lunchtime Lessons about small balcony gardening and worm farm composting.

Along with his own garden, Rob is passionate about helping people connect with their community and works alongside the Food Resilience Network and the currently in-progress Ōtākaro Orchard. With the desire to get more New Zealanders creating veggie gardens, Rob and some friends created a free web app called Veggie Gardener. This app is a planting guide where you pick the veggies you want to plant and it tells you when, where and how to grow them in NZ conditions. I don't know about you, but last year I nearly wiped all my zucchini plants out with frostbite, I could have used that knowledge! (Thankfully they pulled through)

Rob will be coming along to share his knowledge at Tūranga's Seed and Plant Swap on Saturday 14 September from 10am to 5pm. These 30 minute sessions are designed with the beginner in mind:

  • 12pm – How to plant a seed
  • 1pm – How to propagate plants
  • 2pm – Q & A with Rob

My colleague Lauren caught up with Rob to pick his brains about gardening and life and books of course.

Where did your passion for gardening come from?

As a child I loved harvesting things from the garden and chopping down giant sunflowers. Nowadays, I have a strong ethic that disagrees with the way we treat the world around us. Growing food means less plastic (one of my pet hates is single use plastic), less food miles and less chemical inputs.

What is your favourite thing to grow in your garden?

I love herbs most of all, they bring a salad to life, make a boring soup spectacular, take up little space and are often from cuttings that have a long history like a growing diary.  

What grows particularly well in Christchurch?

Almost everything. If there was an infinite amount of water, Canterbury would be perfect for market gardens.

Tips for 'black thumb' growers like myself? Or do you have any top secret gardening tips?

Start with easy plants to grow. (check the veggiegardener.nzopens a new window app, we have a selection of these for you). Grow what you love to eat. I always tell people to start with herbs and branch out from there. Salad greens give a good return for your effort. Most of all give it a go! We all have failures (though you won't see these on social media so often!) so don't worry about them. We all have successes too. Plant lots of different things and find what works for you.

Any eco-friendly growing tips? For example, avoiding plastic/chemicals/pesticides?

Growing your own food means less plastic (one of my pet hates is single use plastic), less food miles and less chemical input. Foods like celery, strawberries, spinach, grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, lettuce and kale are often heavily sprayed so are great ones to grow at home.  

What is the most surprising thing you've learnt about gardening?

That things you grow super well one season can fail the next, and the other way around. Last year we grew awesome cucumbers while other years they haven't worked for us at all.  

If you could grow a garden anywhere in the world, where would it be and what would you grow?

Northland, New Zealand and it would be a small avocado orchard with passionfruit vines growing everywhere up high and watermelons on the ground.

And lastly, because after all we are librarians and can't resist ... What is your favorite book?

A Guide to the Identification of New Zealand Common Weeds in Colour.

This was written by my father. Actually my partner Kristie who is a naturopath wants to rewrite my father's book and call it Beneficial Herbs of New Zealand! (that will be my favourite one day!) Really my favourite book is Simply Living by Gwen Skinner. I travelled around New Zealand with this for years and it is a fantastic gatherers' resource.

Simply Living

Thanks to Rob for donating his time to come and teach us a valuable life skill! Do come along to Tūranga if you are able, or check out any of the Library Seed and Plant Swaps happening in libraries this month.

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